Nitin Sawhney at Sydney Opera House

Sonia Clarke stays wide awake for Nitin Sawhney:

Forget trees falling in the forest: what I would like to know is, if you sleep through a gig at the Opera House, did it really happen? Not me – perish the thought – but the guy in the row in front of me, who opted for the musical stylings of the Land of Nod rather than Nitin Sawhney. $50 not massively well spent.

Comatose crowd aside, you would think the biggest issue facing Sawhney would be choosing just a couple of hours of material; no small feat with nine albums, countless scores, and fingers in pies as diverse as video games and young talent development.

Despite (or perhaps because of) such an impressive body of work, he cuts an unassuming figure on stage. In fact, beyond briefly noting song names, and giving heartfelt thanks to his band, he says little else. Choosing to position himself at the side rather than bang in the middle, it seems he would like his music, and the performances of his musicians, to speak for themselves. And how! ‘Talented’ seems too small a word, or perhaps too overused, for Nitin Sawhney’s band.

I’d never seen someone play the flute and sing at (almost) the same time before, and I realise now that I basically hadn’t lived. The flautist slash singer slash magician in question is Ashwin Srinivasan, and if I could somehow get him to play for me every day (suggestions how on a postcard please), the world would be a better place.

A trio of female singers were all strong, with the bulk of vocal duties falling to Nicki Wells. This girl has a dazzling voice which translates across any musical style (“this is a Sanskrit hymn to Krishna” she said casually at one point, before launching into an A cappella performance so good that the whole concert hall seemed to collectively hold its breath).

After starting with some crowd-pleasing classics like Sunset and The Immigrant, the evening then took more of a turn towards the recent. Longing, from what Sawhney laughingly called his ‘hypothetical’ next album, didn’t break new ground but summed up what we’ve come to expect from him: a big, sweeping ballad, beautiful vocal and genre-blind style.

So – five stars? Not quite.

Maybe it was the way Sawhney solemnly intoned the name of each song they played, or the aforementioned sleeping fan, but the atmosphere never reached that electric pitch you can get in the Opera House. All in all: utterly lovely, but not unforgettable.


Review by Sonia Clarke.